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2023 Cubs player profiles: Seiya Suzuki

The 11th in a series of capsule biographies. Japanese superstar Suzuki comes to Chicago and sayonara baseballs. His glove will come around.

Seiya Suzuki gives the ball a good look
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

28-year-old Seiya Suzuki is a “five-time NPB All-Star, six-time NPB Best Nine Award winner, and a five-time winner of the NPB Golden Glove Award.”

His fielding as a Cub really hasn’t shown that, and one has to believe that the standard is different in Japan because Suzuki has spent considerable time in the position here in the states. He’s passable at best, says the eye test.

Whether that changes remains to be seen.

His bat, though, that has some potency. So far this year, he’s hitting .324, with one home run and six rbi, pushing a slash line of .324/.439/.441, which is not half-bad. A little more power would be okay, and he may well provide that. 34 at-bats is an awfully small sample size.

in 2022, Suzuki hit.262, with 14 home runs and 46 RBI in three-quarters of a season, slashing .262/.336/.433. So something like .260 with 25 homers and 75 FBI wouldn’t be out of the question, given his projection of .267 with 20 and 70. That would be a successful season for the Cubs’ starting right fielder. I’d pitch that a little higher, but okay.

Suzuki is signed through 2026, and has a full no-trade clause in his contract. He and Ian Happ will be manning right and left field for a while unless they are moved out by superior performers. Both are likely to get better rather than worse, and one has to wonder then at the possible futures of players like Nelson Velázquez, Brennen Davis, Pete Crow-Armstrong and Christopher Morel. It’s a good thing to have too many good players, though.

Chicago has embraced Suzuki, so far. He’s lived up to expectations reasonably well... fielding aside. Cubs fans were expecting a Gold Glove-type outfielder and so far he hasn’t been that guy. Not that it isn’t possible — Wrigley Field’s right field has traditionally been a difficult assignment — but Suzuki is replacing an actual MLB Gold Glover and the difference is pretty noticeable.

It’s up to Eric Hosmer to replace Heyward’s groundouts, though. Seiya Suzuki hits line drives, and lots of them. And he walks at nearly a 15 percent clip, which is very good, albeit a tad lower than his 2022 percentage of 18.2, but then, small sample size.

Seiya Suzuki is going to be hitting in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup for a good long time, and I suspect we’re going to enjoy the ride. Gordon Wittenmyer recently opined that Suzuki is the most polite player in MLB, and I have no reason to question that.

Cubs teammates love him. His manager couldn’t ask for a more conversational, respectful star player.

And even opponents and umpires have been taken aback by his good manners.

I can’t wait till his English gets better. His sense of humor is already legendary. Toy Matsushita, his interpreter, will probably stick around anyway. And he may well develop into the player the Cubs thought he was when they signed him.

“I think what you’ve seen from him this year is just scratching the surface,” Nico Hoerner said. “Away from the game of baseball, just life-wise, it’s gotta be incredibly challenging.

“He’ll come in to next year with a real sense of what’s ahead of him from weather to travel to opposing pitchers to food to everything in between that a lot of us take for granted. If this is his baseline, you’re looking at a really, really solid player and a guy who’s gonna continue to improve.”

Hard to argue with that.

Suzuki made his debut with the Hiroshima Carp at 18 years old, and by 21 he was a legitimate star in Japan. In his “worst” season — 2020, at Age 25 — he batted .300 with a .953 OPS, 25 homers and 75 RBIs in 118 games. He followed that with a spectacular 2021 campaign, blasting 38 homers in 134 games, to go with a .317 average, .433 on-base percentage and 1.069 OPS.

Over at FanGraphs, Suzuki’s ZIPS projections put him in the 21-23 homer range for the next several seasons. Those feel like conservative projections. — the Sporting News.

Sayonara, baseballs.